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US-Iran Tensions: Know About The Laws Governing The Acts Of War

The talks around Law of War have taken a wave since US airstrike killed Iran's top commander Qassem Soleimani along with other military personnel on January 3.


With escalating tensions in the Middle East after US President, Donald Trump directed airstrike killed Iran's top commander Qassem Soleimani, the talks around Law of War have taken a wave. Trump's critics have called the air raid as an 'escalatory move' while Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has announced 'harsh retaliation' after Washington killed its top military personnel. The International humanitarian law (IHL) is the part of the body of international law that governs the relations between States. 

IHL also known as 'law of war' or the 'law of armed conflict' aims to limit the effects of such conflicts by directing laws for both the civilians and combatants. In order to control lawless anarchy, it was only the last 150 years that States made international laws for armed conflict citing humanitarian reasons. The recent US strike has fueled further conflicts with an attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad, threats of Iranian leaders, and fear among US officials who apparently were not involved in the escalation. 

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Milestones of IHL

The Geneva conventions and the Hague conventions are the main milestones of IHL which impose obligations on parties engaged in armed conflict. 'Jus in Bello' is the main law governing conduct during the war while 'Jus ad Bellum' is the law governing the resort to force itself. Even though, since there have been profound discussions over who has the authority to declare, interpret and enforce these laws, the International Committee of the Red Cross was established in 1863. 

The moving force behind the Red Cross was Henri Dunant, a Genevan who reportedly witnessed the Battle of Solferino between Austria and France in 1859. Red Cross became the world's first secular international nongovernmental organisation and as a series of diplomatic conferences took place, Hague Convention was established in 1907.

While Geneva and Hague's conventions are reportedly confused with each other, Hague Convention regulates 'conduct of war' while the other is concerned with the humane treatment of 'those no longer part of the battle'.

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According to ICRC, the core principles of war, however, remain in Geneva Conventions which combine the clear legal obligations in armed conflict. According to IHL, they are:

1. Soldiers who surrender or who are hors de combat are entitled to respect for their lives and their moral and physical integrity. It is forbidden to kill or injure them.

2. The wounded and sick must be collected and cared for by the party to the conflict which has them in its power. Protection also covers medical personnel, establishments, transports and equipment. The emblem of the red cross, red crescent or red crystal is the sign of such protection and must be respected.
3. Captured combatants are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions. They must be protected against all acts of violence and reprisals. They must have the right to correspond with their families and to receive relief.

4. Civilians under the authority of a party to the conflict or an occupying power of which they are not nationals are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions.

5. Everyone must be entitled to benefit from fundamental judicial guarantees. No one must be sentenced without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court. No one must be held responsible for an act he has not committed. No one must be subjected to physical or mental torture, corporal punishment or cruel or degrading treatment.

6. Parties to a conflict and members of their armed forces do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. It is prohibited to employ weapons or methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering.

7. Parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian population and property. Adequate precautions shall be taken in this regard before launching an attack.

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